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When Liverpool “defied comprehension” with thunderous 20-minute Arsenal blitz

It was “as explosive as it gets” in the eye of Steven Gerrard, “like a car crash” for Mikel Arteta, and described as a “tornado” wreaking havoc. Liverpool 5, Arsenal 1.

The pang in the heart that accompanies 2013/14 may still come to the fore now and again, but Jurgen Klopp has done much to soothe those particular aches and pains.

But the start of that very heart-wrenching experience was, in part, born from a dizzying and unrelenting 20 minutes that would have torn shreds out of any team that was before the Reds that day.

Anfield, February 8, 2014, to be exact. A red mist had descended, not in anger but in sheer disregard for the team that occupied the away dressing room; Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.

You see, the Gunners were league leaders on that wet and overcast winter’s day, eight points ahead of the Reds in fourth-place and two in front of Man City.

It was always to be a temporary holding position and they would be taught a lesson that day, their credentials devastatingly torn to shreds as the Anfield roar accompanied them all the way back to north London.

 

20-minutes of bliss

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool players stand to remember former player Tony Hateley before the Premiership match against Arsenal at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It is often referred to as a season that was built on quicksand, with a ruthless attack built on shaky foundations lending to the cliche of, ‘if you score three, we’ll score six’.

But on this particular afternoon, there was to be nothing but spellbinding bliss from Brendan Rodgers’ side from the first minute to the last.

Everpresents Simon Mignolet, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel, Raheem Sterling, Luis Saurez and Philippe Coutinho made up most of the XI, whilst one future Red Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be handed a front-row seat to one of the most electrifying opening 20 minutes.

The press would describe the opening exchanges in a myriad of ways, from “astonishing” to a “magical, mesmerising display,” one that “defied comprehension” and “warranted every superlative.”

If you were there, it’s imprinted on your brain. If you watched it anywhere around the world, it’s imprinted on your brain.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's Martin Skrtel scores the first goal against Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool XI: Mignolet; Flanagan, Toure, Skrtel, Cissokho; Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho; Sturridge, Sterling, Suarez

It was a late summer’s evening in Australia for me, needing to practice the excruciating art of being quiet when all one wants to do is bounce off the walls and join in on the magic unfolding thousands of miles away.

“It’s a game that promises much,” the commentator uttered in what retrospect was an understatement, with Anfield in euphoria with the clock having barely hit the 53-second mark.

Skrtel was the one to thank for that, his knee if we’re to be specific, having bundled over Gerrard’s dead-ball delivery at the Anfield Road end, 1-0 to the Reds.

Liverpool only pushed further on the throttle, barely giving Arsenal the chance to introduce themselves to the ball let alone catch their breath.

Wave after wave the Reds poured forward, and Skrtel was again there to find the net off Gerrard’s boot once more, pulling his shirt over his head toward the then-named Centenary Stand.

By the 10th-minute mark it was 2-0, and by minute 16 the Anfield scoreboard ticked over to 3-0, with Raheem Sterling to thank this time at the back-post as Arsenal had their feet tied in knots.

Anfield demanded more and Liverpool delivered, Coutinho sending through a sumptuous ball to the awaiting Daniel Sturridge to convert with his second touch. Cue the dance moves.

The Echo described it as “the most emphatic dismantling of a visiting top club a vibrant, bouncing Anfield has seen in years,” the decibel levels will have not disputed that.

Liverpool 4, Arsenal 0. It had only been 20 minutes. 1,200 seconds.

And incredibly, it could have been more.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the third goal against Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That included “a volley of seemingly impossible brilliance by Suarez that thundered against a post,” a hit that would have been enough to end the game then and there – a moment that never was.

It was unrelenting, as close to perfect as you could have wished for and Liverpool left Arsenal in tatters, dishevelled and not knowing which way was up and which way was down.

“After 20 minutes we were 4-0 down and it was like a car crash,” Arteta surmised after it was all said and done, but you can comfortably say the scoreline at the break flattered Arsenal.

Anfield showed its appreciation as one heading into the break, and Rodgers’ message was that “he believes in football by death and he wanted us to go out and kill them again in the second half.”

Sterling added a fifth having had two pops at it to hint at a further demolition job in the second 45, but another barrage of goals did not quite come to fruition – though chances were aplenty.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the fourth goal against Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was abundantly clear to all, though, that Arsenal were already a shell of their former selves at that point – football by death was achieved.

The damage was done and for their troubles a consolation goal for Arteta from the spot, thanks to Gerrard lunging in late on Oxlade-Chamberlain.

“I’m trying to think of a performance I can remember in the last 15 years. Maybe one or two in the Champions League got close but that was as explosive as it gets,” the Liverpool captain said.

“That is right up there. That’s definitely in the top three performances I have been involved in…We have absolutely demolished a top team from start to finish.”

 

What came next?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard and Jon Flanagan after the 5-1 victory over Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Outthought and outmuscled, it was merciful of Liverpool to walk from the pitch with the scoreboard reading 5-1, but after all, they did shred the Gunners’ title credentials.

The trip to Anfield was the beginning of the end for their Premier League title ambitions with two wins from their next eight, ultimately finishing the season in fourth – five points behind Liverpool.

“This was a masterpiece of the collective, a superb, paradigm-shifting display from 11 players and their manager: everyone in a Liverpool shirt, plus the man in their dugout, was stellar,” was how the Times assessed it in the aftermath.

Rodgers remained resistant to then put his side in the title discussion with 13 games remaining, but the football did the talking for the next 10 matches – all ending in victories for the Reds.

With four games left it would be in Liverpool’s hands and we all know the agonising events of what unfolded next, we’ll spare you the details.

But that thrilling, dazzling run-in in 2013/14 was, in part, made possible by the mesmorising, masterful 20-minute dismantling of Arsenal – 1,200 seconds that have not, and will not, be forgotten in a hurry.

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